Today Washington DC Became Capital of the United States

The U.S. Capitol as it appeared circa 1800, when DC became capital

The U.S. Capitol as it appeared circa 1800 when DC became capital, in a watercolor painting by William Russell Birch (Image Courtesy of Library of Congress)

On June 11, 1800, DC became capital of the United States, leaving the country’s former capital of the previous decade, Philadelphia, to the fate of Pennsylvanians. While Washington, DC, was a young upstart, Philadelphia was the largest city in America at the time, with nearly 50,000 residents.

George Washington never saw the city named after him become the capital of the new nation; he had died more than six months before – his last words: “Tis well.”

In 1800, the U.S. Capitol building consisted only of the Senate’s north wing. The Senate and House members shared this wing until a temporary wooden pavilion was built for House members. Their south wing was finally completed in 1811, but the House members didn’t wait – they left their pavilion and moved into the unfinished wing in 1807.

At this time of the capital move from Philly, there were only about 125 federal employees newly bound for DC, and official documents and archives were transferred by ship via inland waterways.

President John Adams had to move, too, but the “President’s Palace” – which wouldn’t be called the “White House” until 1811 – was still under construction. Instead, Adams took a room over Tunnicliff’s, a Capitol Hill tavern at the corner of 1st and A NE. Good to know that our first DC resident President lived over a bar…

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